Hearts and…Fences?

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Isn’t the old expression Hearts and Flowers? Of course it is. And that is where I begin.

Fences have their use, whether it is containing something or keeping things out.

Within Judaism fences are what is put around Torah. The reason being that fences – or barriers – make sure that we mere mortals do not transgress the law. Moses descended the mountain with the tablets containing the TEN WORDS for the Israelites. There are eight “shalt nots” and two “shalts.” Humanly speaking, telling us what not to do seems to provoke us to do it.

So what was set in stone – literally and figuratively – were to be guideposts for how to live our lives in sync with our Creator. Through the millennia learned rabbis have commented, expounded on these basic directives from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their goal is to help mankind navigate life within the limits of what is expected of us.

The first commandment is to have no other gods before Him, from which we derive the Shema, “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind [and strength].” (Deut. 6:5) Upon this – combined with what is called the second great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – hang all the Law and the Prophets.

And the fences abound. Layer upon layer to the extent that sometimes we are hard pressed to remember the intent of the original word. What God intended for a stepping stone has become a stumbling block. What can get lost in translation – or interpretation – is love.

It was Jesus who came to illuminate the Torah, the Law. He spoke simply but pierced our hearts. No longer were the Ten Commandments slashed graffiti on cold walls of abandoned buildings, provoking us to defy them. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus (Yeshua) breathed life back into the purpose of the law and our ability to obey.

The Law had been lovingly transmitted to us by our Creator who sees past, present and future – all at the same time. God knew what could stumble us and sent us prophets to light our paths. He knew we must have free will, but heavenly guidance to stay the course. Instead of being filled with His Presence and empowered to follow his laws, we sit around and ponder them to the extent of arguments. Where’s the love?

The goal of all the law is that we love God and each other. That we treat our fellow man as we would like to be treated. How many have asked, “But who is my neighbor?” We understand that our neighbor can be literal but also figurative.

What I fear we sometimes forget is that our neighbor is also our own children. Those who are blessed to be entrusted to raise children have a deeper commitment to those in our charge than to any other persons.

When we see our children start to go astray, our first urge as parents is to lock them up! Honestly! What we are missing is that they too were created with Free Will. Don’t mistake me, I have raised children and know the many pitfalls we must guide them passed. What I am saying is that our first response – not reaction – needs to be love.

 Malachi testified that the Father would send “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers.” Wonder why we had to be reminded of that specifically?! (Malachi 4:5-6)

These are those times when fathers and their children are at odds with one another more than ever before. We as the parents can by God’s grace turn that around. Our children will be led astray. We must be watchmen on the wall, but not their executioners. The enemy of their souls is very eager to see them fail and also to turn away from their parents. Our greatest challenge is to regain the hearts of our children.

We can’t just lock them up. How many fences would be enough? If we did shut them away, there would never be the right time to let them loose. God didn’t lock us up. He listens, he hears us, he is slow to anger and he admonishes us to not provoke our children to anger. (Eph. 6:4) Anger separates, love bonds. We must teach them the same challenge we have and that is to be in the world but not of it.

Not to oversimplify – because this is a very complex situation – but the answer is not more control, but less. In this situation, less is truly more. As our children grow, we need to watch over them, counsel them, instruct them and even discipline them, but all without breaking their spirits and without replacing the voice of the Holy Spirit in them. It is God’s voice we want them to heed. We have to nurture their ability to hear from God, not just remove any possibility of temptation.

The older our kids become, the greater the challenge to hold onto their hearts. We must show them unconditional love as they attempt – and often fail – to navigate God’s path for them. Proverbs 15 says “A soft [gentle] answer turns away wrath, but grievous [hard] words stir up anger.”  And again in 16:24 “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” Hey, send them flowers when they mess up if you want to blow their minds!

We must be transparent even as we ask it of them. There is no place for fences in our relationship with our loved ones. We need to have confidence in what we have instilled in them throughout their lives. We need to hear them instead of just waiting for our turn to talk. They need to know that we value their perspective, because it is unique to each individual. They need to know we see hope in their ability to hear God.

We must show them how our heart breaks when they fall off the path. As we humble ourselves, God will give us grace for the situation. (Prov. 11:12) Then we have their attention and they will more readily hear us as we steer them back.

Isn’t that what our Heavenly Father does for us? How can we do less.

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Sunshine – Who Knew?!

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Actually we all knew and know. When our skin is exposed to the sun, our body produces Vitamin D, often referred to as “the sunshine vitamin.” This vitamin, unlike others, is a steroid hormone produced from cholesterol that is involved in calcium absorption, immune function and protecting bone, muscle and heart health.

We have been in the midst of a worldwide plague for almost two years now. Our immune systems have been put to the test and found wanting. This is not a question of whether to vaccinate or not. The issue is how do we survive this virus and its potential mutations?

We have experts of every ilk touting their cocktails to thwart COVID. Some are FDA-approved and some not. We are in crisis. There is the saying “any port in a storm” that definitely applies here. In the middle of the chaos, people are inundated with best practices that often are diametrically opposed to someone else’s protocol. It really doesn’t matter in which “camp” we find ourselves, there is someone else with seemingly equal success rates for beating the virus.

There is, however, one common denominator. Israeli researchers have found that “pre-infection deficiency of vitamin D is associated with increased COVID-19 severity and mortality…It was found that compared with mildly or moderately diseased patients, those with severe or critical COVID-19 disease were more likely to have severe pre-infection vitamin D deficiency with levels less than 20 ng/mL. (Bar Ilan University, Xinhua, June 21, 2021)

Many experts put the normal range of vitamin D to be between 20 and 40 ng/mL. Others recommend a level between 30 and 50. Based on these levels, it is estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide don’t get enough of this vitamin. (1 Trusted Source)

Common knowledge tells us that significant amounts of vitamin D occur naturally in very few foods – fatty fish, for example. Our best source is exposing the skin to sunlight. Regardless of our diets, most experts suggest that if we spend as few as 8-15 minutes of exposure – or 10-30 minutes of midday sunlight several times per week – we can get 100% of vitamin D needed for our bodies to have maximum immune function as well as heart, bone and muscle health.

If we need further proof of the benefits of sunshine, there are recent recognized studies that suggest increased vitamin D levels may prevent a wide range of diseases as well as combat depression. There are even specific reports that propose vitamin D – whether from the sun, supplements or food – to stave off contracting COVID, or at very least minimizing the damage.

When this pandemic struck, people were confined indoors globally. It’s not like the statistics show evidence of our being much in the sun anyway. There has never been a generation that has spent less time outdoors than this one.

When I was a kid, we spent every waking moment outside, year round. Our fun came from interacting with our friends and neighbors in the great outdoors. My family did not get a TV until I was 13. Even then, there was very little on the tube to entice me to stay inside. Fortunately we lived in an area that enjoyed sun much of the year, and so we did.

Today’s young people rarely see a direct ray of sun. The prime hours they could be getting these golden rays are typically spent indoors with their studies. When their schoolwork is done, fewer are enticed to jump on their bikes and head to the park. The lure of technology has turned us into people of the couch.

With the restrictions on our movements during COVID, even parks were closed for almost a year in our area. Accordingly, parents have given extra leniency to their children to be longer on their electronic devices. To our detriment. Both individually and as a people.

Even the youngest child today has an understanding of the intricacies of our virtual world. The information highway is well-traveled. Today’s children – and even a good number of adults – get their “exercise” virtually with the radiance of the blue light, not the yellow orb.

Who knew that our best preventive and therapeutic medicine is also free and available to everyone – and experts agree? Plagues such as COVID thrive in the dark, literally. We are in a battle. Let’s all fight back with a healthy dose of daily sunshine.

Rest Assured

“My God has the cattle on a thousand hills…I know I’ll never go hungry.” Richard Rubinstein, used with permission.

That was a verse from one of my late husband’s songs. Given all we have been dealing with in the last couple of years, COVID being primary, we need to have assurances that God is still on the throne.

I had a conversation with a dear friend last night concerning the question of whether or not to get the COVID vaccination. She is highly intelligent and very well read. Those of us who want to make informed decisions about important, potentially life-and-death matters have our go-to sources of information. Hers have justified her decision to not vaccinate.

This is a controversial issue, especially since the Delta variant came quickly on the heels of the coronavirus. Some authorities are reporting statistics that back up getting vaccinations as they are reporting that the likelihood of vaccinated persons getting either of the viruses is minimal, under one percent of the population. Any of these getting infected, especially people with low risk factors, are getting well without hospitalization.

What would seem like equally reliable sources – those of my friend – are contending that the vaccination is not making any difference in persons getting or surviving the viruses. Her one offspring and family are just getting over COVID. The husband not only had been vaccinated, but was sicker than his unvaccinated wife and children.

This kind of anecdotal “evidence” can be compelling, especially when it is happening to loved ones. What is a reasonable person to think?

The concerns raised about the vaccinations range from it not being a “proper” vaccine, it remaining in the site of the needle entry, persons getting blood clots and even heart problems, to it’s being ineffectual against the virus for which it was intended.

A lot to ponder. In fact, way too much for we mere mortals. If the highly educated, thoroughly trained medical community can – and does – have differing and even divergent opinions, how is there hope for us to understand and make “informed” choices?

The whole Pandemic poses questions and circumstances that are way beyond MOST comprehension. I am not suggesting that we not even try to figure it out, but there comes that moment when you have exhausted all your resources and have to make a decision when the air is still murky.

I am happy to proclaim that God is still on the throne! If you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and in His Son Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew), there is HOPE.

Our Creator gave us our intellects and our desire to choose wisely. He knows how difficult it can be when weighing the insights of one authority against another. It was never His intention that we had to be responsible for knowing everything about anything. We do our best, but when it is time to reach out in desperation at uncertainty, He is there.

How could He not know what is best for us? That is the bigger question. He knows our beginning to our end. He knows all life events from their beginning to their end. He weeps at our suffering and yearns to show us His path that leads to life, and that everlasting. The biggest question of all is what are we afraid of? In these COVID times, our decisions can be life changing, life ending. It is HUGE, and we are not, but God is.

I am not going to declare everyone’s decision about getting vaccinated should be the same. I am not God. What I am saying is that He knows what YOU should do. You’ve studied your heart out looking at best practices. Now it is time to let go and let God, so to speak. Through prayer we enter His very presence. We have assurance that “In His presence is fullness of joy,” as well as complete peace and all wisdom. (Psalm 16:11)

I want to share how I approach God. It is not of my creation, but is presented in the Bible. Start by thanking Him for all he has given to you. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving.” Then your heart will swell up with praise as you realize just who He is and how much you have to be grateful for. “Enter his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4) He is the Creator of all and is totally omniscient. He knows every move we should make.

As we thank Him and praise Him and Bless His name, the other dimension opens up. We are IN His Presence. It is a joyous state of being, of mind. All the troubling issues seem to fade into the background.

Sometimes I call this my “hotline” to Heaven. When I am in that “place” with the Lord I KNOW I can ask what I will and He will make it so. I don’t have any worldly requests. They are somewhere far away. I am in sync with the Master. I pray for health and well-being for persons I know as well as for all of Creation. I am filled with compassion for the human condition. As I pray, the decisions I have been pondering become clear.

It is in this place that you will find your answers. I made my decision. You must make yours. The last verse of my husband’s song says it best…

“I don’t have to figure it out…My God can do it better.” Rest Assured.

It is Finished

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How do we parents know when our job as parents is done?

Everything in life has an expiration date, so to speak. We know when we have completed a level in school. There is a finish line, a goal toward which we aim. When the course has been run, we know.

I have often lamented that there is no Owner’s Manual accompanying our kids when they come to us. There is no “course of study” that lets us know when our work has been accomplished in the children we are raising up.

For those of us who have strong belief systems, regardless of which one, we endeavor to pour into our children all the precepts we believe will put them in good stead to forge out as “adults.” We believe we are best preparing them if they take on our values. How much time do we have to instill in our children everything they need to function in their world?

What is the marker that we have done our job? There are signs all along the path – even for potty training – that show us   

The world has set standard finish lines – maturation dates. A very long time ago it was when a child went through puberty. This is still prevalent in some tribal cultures. Closer to our present times and in the western world, the age of 21 was first set to mark adulthood – the age of majority.

When we realized, however, we were sending “under-aged” children to fight wars and possibly die in the process, in our great wisdom we moved the age down to 18. But even then the person giving one’s life for country could not buy a bottle of beer.

We have many rites of passage. I think children really must be 12 before they can babysit other children. In Jewish tradition a child becomes an adult – in that he or she is old enough to follow God for themselves – at the age of 13.

For some they might get to date at 16. This is also the age they can have jobs and get a driver’s license. In this country we send kids to college at 18.

There is no arbitrary age for maturation. That’s the good news, and the bad news. Whatever we want to teach our children to prepare them for life must be accomplished by the time they are ready to fly solo. Baby birds get pushed out of the nest at the exact time the parent senses they are ready to spread their wings. Observing this culmination of parenting in the animal world should be a signal for us mere humans.

So, when does a child become an adult? I would suggest that it is when their cups are full. If we try to pour into a full cup, we know there will be spillage. We understand that in the physical world, so why do we ignore it in our child raising? When we observe they are walking their paths, even if a bit unsteady, they are ready.

I love watching the Great British Baking Show. When the contestants are given their technical challenge, the judges usually do not tell them how long the bake should take. The bakers have to watch, judge the signs. If they pull their bake out of the oven too early or too late, it’s not a good bake.

Parents, we need to watch the signs to know when our children have become adults. One sign is that they may start to give you push back when you suggest – or even require – a specific way for them to proceed. Don’t mistakenly see this as rebellion or typical teenage angst. It’s actually a good sign. At the point they have digested all they are able to receive from you, they will begin to walk with it.

Hopefully they are still under your roof and will accept a steadying hand as they stumble about at first. Our task as parents is to let them try their wings. We need to recognize that they are on the verge of beginning their adult lives. This is not a time for us to cram in more platitudes, admonitions. It is a time for us to reassure them they are ready. Do we have more we had hoped to impart? No doubt, but when their cups are full, avoid the overflow.

I have actually seen some children reach this point just after they reach puberty, but for many it might come as early as 16, but most at least by 18. Whether they leave the house at that time or not, we need to treat them differently. Our young adults just need the confidence they are ready. They want to hear it from their parents. Offering advice is okay, but make sure it does not come with any strings and especially no ultimatums. Once they have reached this level of maturity they can resent us for holding them back.

If they do not have parents encouraging them, but rather continuing to prescribe their behavior for fear they are not ready, what does that say?

First, it says that the parents do not trust all they have instilled in their children. They can’t believe their kids have enough to maintain their solo flight. This is a mistake brought on by parents who have experienced at least twice as much life as their offspring and believe their children must benefit from the total of their experience. Their progeny will learn from their own experiences now.

Second, they see how young their children seem and it makes them fearful. How we forget that we too were that young when we set out. Regardless of how well a parent has done their job, kids will fly when it is time.

It is not my intent to minimize the role of the parent in the maturation of their children. Quite the opposite. I admire parents who have the strength to raise their children in a way they believe prepares them for their ultimate adulthood. I am just concerned that some of the best parents with amazing values are the ones most tempted to not let their children go when their time comes.

It was intentional that I entitled this piece the words of Jesus when he was dying on the cross. He had only 33 years to get all creation ready to receive and understand His sacrifice. When he declared the battle was over, He knew it was a new beginning for all mankind.

God-fearing parents, release your children to walk the path God set for them. It may – actually will – look different from yours, but they will be undergirded by all you taught and how you walked your path. At this point we must trust it is enough.

If you want assurance your grown children will turn to you when they need guidance, be the wind under their wings.                                                              

SOCIETY UNDER LOCK AND KEY

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A Whole New World?

This year has presented worldwide pandemonium in every aspect of life – the COVID 19 pandemic being the major disaster, still ongoing at this writing. Restrictions are happening world wide to stem the impact of this mystery virus. In America, our local, state and national government have exerted control over all our movements ostensibly to slow down the number of people contracting the deadly virus.

When I was still a high school English teacher, I taught Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World written in 1932, almost 70 years ago. It was presented as a cautionary tale depicting a dystopian, totalitarian society in which “individual liberty has been usurped by an all-powerful state.” Not my words. Look it up for yourself.

The message of Huxley’s futuristic society is to warn mankind of the dangers of giving the state absolute control over human beings, especially by their controlling “new and powerful technologies.” This myopic government views the problems of society as having been generated by human relations gone awry, causing them to be very unhappy. The state’s goal is to regulate human happiness. The problem, of course, is that happiness is quite an individual thing. One size does not fit all.

It is very revealing for people to note what words are considered obscene in this distorted society. In the Brave New World the worst word is “mother.” Similarly, “dirty” words in this New World are father, born, parents and any intimate family relationship title. Personal connections are strictly forbidden. 

It’s easy to see that none of these words are ever used because no one is allowed to have a baby. The state sterilizes two thirds of the women right after birth because their technology has developed to the extent that they can produce a lot of humans with only one egg. They surgically remove women’s ovaries if they need to “bottle” new children. All offspring are test tube babies. No child ever has any idea of who his or her parents are. There is no such concept.

If persons begin to think for themselves – ultimately forming relationships with others – they are considered savages and are sent to a reservation, hopefully prior to their having any subversive influence on others.  

Fast forward to the 21stCentury. I think we can agree that most of the struggles mankind has is in its relationships with other human beings. I think we can agree that the institutions we put in place to alleviate dysfunctional relationships don’t necessarily have a high success rate. We have men and women in a battle of the genders. We contend with parents who can’t nurture their children. We have persons not respecting others’ property. Our social and judicial systems are overrun with petitions, court cases, welfare decisions, all to try to make people make nice.

What to do? It is tempting to want to control everyone. In fact, the Creator could have pre-programmed us to do “right” at all times. Instead, He made us with the freedom to choose our path for ourselves. We don’t always make the best decisions, but that cannot give anyone license to force others to do what they might believe is best. We are free to try to influence others, even educate others, but no individual nor entity has the right to usurp God-given free will.

We are allowed to set up institutions to make sure that one individual’s rights don’t overtake someone else’s. When lines are crossed, there are society-agreed-upon consequences. It is tough enough to get agreement on what this should look like. What we can’t do, however, is make laws or rules that violate the rights with which every human was born.

American society struggles in how to govern the people. We are given a democratic process whereby we get to vote officials into their positions, but once they are in power our check and balance system cannot curtail abuse of power without petitioning to remove the person from his or her post – a daunting, multi-faceted task. Politicians of every ilk vie for their disparate positions to be the law of the land.

So, the year is now 2020. Enter stage left, the coronavirus. Our technology is not advanced enough yet to combat many viruses. This one “seems” especially virile. I qualify this because the public gets conflicting “authoritative” statistics on the course, hence danger, of this virus. Pronouncements are made to only be countered by an updated view within days or weeks. Each time, the public is cautioned how they are to respond to the situation for the good of all.

Then the cautions turned to mandates. We were on house arrest for months. We were demanded to not be within six feet of another and then for all to wear masks. Massive restrictions of every activity were put in place often with the threat of huge fines or arrests for offenders.

Case in point occurred when a small part of my family got the opportunity to take a road trip to a beach town. Signs were plastered everywhere proclaiming that there was a $100 fine for anyone not wearing a mask on the beach. A law enforcement person was stationed close by to issue tickets as warranted.

Only what the government determined to be “essential” places of business could be open. No more haircuts. No movie theaters. No school. Not even any parks. No restaurants. No places of worship. Most places of retail business shut down or were under severe “social distancing” restrictions.

All year regulations kept changing and continue to do so into 2021. Establishments were open, closed again, opened partially, closed again. Restaurants could only serve outdoors and with social distancing. Then they could have limited inside distance dining. Then it was withdrawn to only order out. At this writing diners can only get take out, no inside or outside dining. This too shall pass.

Many hair salons have gone underground, papering their windows, locking their doors, and asking patrons to text when present so they can quickly admit them. It was six months before I got a haircut and then I was concerned my hairdresser might get arrested. Tapping on her salon door felt much like what I imagine it was like to seek entrance to a “speakeasy” of old. The prohibited product? A haircut.

Schools in our state were not allowed to reopen, setting up distance learning instead. Predominantly two-working-parents’ households scrambled to provide adult supervision for their children sequestered at home doing schoolwork on computers. It’s anybody’s guess how many children have been home alone. We used to only be concerned about those kids left unsupervised between school being out and parents coming home from work. During this pandemic there could be any number of children left home all or most of the day without adult attention.

There has been a huge negative impact on the economy with many workers losing their livelihood from their places of business being limited or shut down. Some have been sent home to accomplish their work assignments on their computers. There’s a mixed review of this arrangement.

Many businesses deemed “non essential” have permanently shut their doors. Even faith-based institutions are not allowed to open which has greatly reduced their ability to receive their usual funding – hence threatening their viability – not to mention their congregants being denied access to spiritual counsel for their COVID-troubled lives.

Beyond the financial, the impact on limited socializing may have caused ripples of harm we may not ever get back. People are very isolated. Yes, they are having meetings online. Yes, they are making phone calls. But there is no substitute for in-person contact.

With many parents having to stay home to either do their work or wait for when they can get work again, families have reportedly been spending more time together. That has been possibly one good thing to come out of this. Given the financial stress and cabin fever, however, it can be questioned how positive the time has been.

So what am I advocating? First, there should have never been mandates circumventing personal choices. Are there people who will make bad decisions? Yes, but frankly, they are not likely deterred by mandates.

Second, even recommendations of changes in behavior should take into consideration those who are truly the most vulnerable. Should no one get to go shopping, go to school, go to work, go to religious services if there are a few who cannot due to their age or health condition – including me!

Third, deciding what services are essential should not be a political football. The places shut down are often offering the things that provide us with quality of life that makes life worth living. Shades of Brave New World that abortion clinics have remained open!

Fourth, and probably most important, keep political aspirations out of sifting through the “scientific” information. To make informed choices, we the people need true facts.

This volume offers perspective pieces that address many of the issues raised by the way our government has chosen to react to what is being called the COVID 19 pandemic. We have been at this all year and now continue into 2021.

It had been predicted we might not have any solid solution – basically a vaccine for corona – until summer of 2021. At this edit – December 20, 2020 – the first vaccines have been released to the healthcare professionals’ tier of essential workers. To the credit of this administration’s effort – still under President Trump – laboratories and governing medical agencies have pushed the vaccine’s creation and distribution just in time for the predicted “flu season” spike of the coronavirus.

All in all, we already have hindsight enough to realize information, communications have been grossly mishandled during this year. Frankly, We the People have been mishandled. At this point we have all been forced to forge a “new normal.” But, it is neither new nor normal. It is the same old game. 

Politicians control the information highway. Neither political party was able to gain our confidence that they had our best interests at heart. This pandemic happening in an election year has been devastating. 

Political football is not a game anyone can win, but in this case, the People are the ones taking all the hits. 

20/20: We Can See Clearly Now

IN THE BEGINNING…

We have been through a lot of grief this year. It is up to us to decide how we view this season and how we choose to go forward.

I won’t be glib because I know there are those among us who have suffered the most extreme loss, whether it be from COVID, unprecedented thunder and lightning storms or the fires they started, earthquakes that chose this time to shake the earth, rioting in the streets, loss of economic stability or just the general tugging of life and death cycles. What I do want to say is that we still have choice in how we hold these times in our minds.

We have experienced natural and other disasters many times throughout the years. This time we were hit with a convergence of crises that seems unequaled in our world history. Some places in the world were hit harder than others. I don’t think anyone doubts that America has experienced suffering in all aspects of life.

There’s an old song that refers to hard times. Rains can be a metaphor for any time circumstances beyond our control have threatened to inundate us. When the rains pour, it is even difficult to determine what obstacles might be in our way. The rains have now lifted. It is not that there are no problems ahead, but we can see them better now. We can plan.

Dark clouds brought the rains. It is difficult to see at all in the darkness. With the sunshine comes hope. There has been pain in the darkness of the storm. There have been dark thoughts that now can be driven out by the coming of the light. God’s sign that the storm is over – from Noah’s days – is the rainbow. How we have prayed for the rainbow.

The thing I love about this old song is that it does not give the false hope that there will never be trouble again – perhaps even of the same or worse magnitude. There will not always be blue skies for us. Our paths may not be straight so that we can see very far ahead. We may not have any idea of what else can come our way. What we do know is that we who now reflect on this year made it through.

How could we have been better prepared for what just took over our world? What can we do to be ready when the next storm hits? The Doomsday preppers would tell us to keep secret stashes of food and supplies. But I would venture to say that what we just experienced made many of us realize two things. First, we need one another. The preppers’ message is just the opposite, “It’s every man for himself!” As circumstances and mandates drove us away from contact with others, our hearts cried out for connection.

Many started with being just in our own homes, then we expanded to include our extended families in our pod. As the months went by, some ventured out to include non-family members into their circle of contacts. Sometimes this included masking and social distancing, but we did not forsake the gathering together.

Second, for those who believe in the Judeo-Christian God, there was a reaching up combined with reaching out. We believe that no matter what disaster comes, God still rules. All of His scripture assures that He has not stepped down from His throne. Further, we are reminded that while God does not cause disaster, He uses whatever happens in our lives to bring us closer to Him.

We might want to ponder the recent worldwide crisis and determine what we might learn from it. Some are calling it a shaking. If so, toward what end? What is it that we need to be taking from our recent, and still ongoing, disasters? It seems to me that we have hopefully learned two lessons. Even though circumstances have tried to drive us away from each other and from God, we must embrace each other and our Creator.

Even though many have become fearful that our fellow man can infect us, or worse, attack us, which could lead us to believe the world is out of control, we still reach out.

Even though some believe that a loving God would not allow such suffering, there are assurances that God is indeed still in control of world events and will work all to bring eventual good from our losses. We have learned that bad things can happen to any of us, but God will not forsake us.

Come what may, our strength during this pandemic and other out-of-control events with which we have been confronted was in our urgency and effort to come together with others. There is truly strength in numbers. Whether we are shopping together, gardening, walking, worshipping, eating or just hanging out, it is being in the company of our fellow man that has brought us out of this storm, and it will again…

I feel almost like I did when I had cataract surgery. My vision was blurred prior to the surgery and afterwards, everything was so crisp. I had not been aware of how unclearly I was seeing. I saw colors much brighter than I ever remembered seeing them. The obstacles to my physical vision had to be surgically removed.

What I see coming out of this pandemic is that we need to focus on what is important. It’s funny how things and situations pale in comparison to being with loved ones. This pandemic has felt like surgery. The good news is that I can see what is important now. I value life more, both yours and mine. I enjoy spending time together.

Together, we will not just survive, but thrive.

Cuddling with Annie

My dog Annie just wants to be glued to my body. She sleeps by my bed on her huge pillow. For a long time I had her on the side opposite from where I sleep. She seemed okay, but I noticed that when I am just resting on my bed, she lies on the floor beside me. I decided to move her bed to my side. Got a great tail wag for that one! So, I thought we had the bedroom “spot” covered.

When I am on my computer, however, which is also in my bedroom, she comes back to that side of the bed where there is now no pet pillow, and plunks down as close to me as possible. In fact when I am working at my desk, she likes to crawl under my desk curled around my feet, but I had to discourage that as she has managed to disconnect my computer on numerous occasions.

Her all-time-favorite place seems to be behind me when I am sitting in my office chair. I tend to sit a little forward. If she can see a crack of space, she climbs behind me and settles in. Oh, did I mention that Annie is a long Vizsla weighing 65 pounds. She can’t be comfy, and I assure you I am not, but I let her hang there, literally, for at least a bit as she seems to crave the closeness.

I have a fellow Vizsla owner I met some years ago on the greenback where we walk our dogs. Imagine my surprise when she shared that her dog also climbs behind her when she is at her desk. I think we have both decided that this breed tends toward insecurity.

My son’s family is living with me for a while. Their children yearn to have a dog that is just cuddly and cute and will follow them around, playing their games. Annie will sometimes comply, but not when I am in the vicinity. When I enter, she leaves wherever she is to come by me. It is very frustrating for my grandkids.

I have noticed that when Annie gets significant cuddle time with me, she is much more calm, and definitely less anxious. She seems to even be a better companion for the grands. It’s as if her little “cup” needs to be full for her to have enough love to give away.

And then it hit me. Oh, wow! I need to be more like Annie. She knows she is dependent on me and just does her very best to stick to me like glue. The picture this presented to me was of me and the Lord. I can get pretty far afield, in my independent self, toodling along without even a glance in His direction. Oh, I occasionally assail Him with a plea for help as I get myself into messes, but I don’t spend the “cuddle” time with Him anymore.

When I first came to believe in Him, I followed Him around like a puppy dog, watching for his every expression, hanging on His every Word. As I began to feel His assurance, and as I understood more of who He is and what He wants for me, I just kind of got further and further away from actual intimacy with Him. I know some of this distancing is normal as we “mature” in the Faith. It is much like a child growing into adulthood and leaving the nest.

But where I—we?—mess up is in forgetting that our very strength lies in our proximity to Him. He has given us whatever gifts we have, but He wants to empower us to make the most of using them. Sometimes I think we forget that we are still tethered to Him. I think I have stretched that connector to its limit in my endeavoring to be master of my life. The great philosophical debate would be whether that tether has elasticity or could snap, separating us from our Creator. Regardless, being distant from the One who loves us, created us, endowed us with His power is pretty foolish.

As I write this, my Annie just re-positioned herself so that she is closer to me. I wonder if she senses that I am writing about her. Once again, there are lessons God has strategically placed in nature for the benefit of mankind. There are lessons all around us. Today I found it in my faithful canine companion. It is not insecurity or weakness to long to be next to your love. We can push out as far as we want, as long as we don’t get disconnected from our very Source. I think I need a cuddle.

Leave Taking

Sitting at my same spot, eating my solitary breakfast, looking out my dining room window…did I miss the changing of the leaves on my crepe myrtles?  Where was full-blown summer with blinds closed against the hot sun?  Oh, how I would have loved to breath in the spring blossoms, but I do not mind having missed the stormy, wet winter. It has been a year since my Love became ill, and now he is gone.

As we chased the elusive diagnosis, there was the debilitating pain of gout and psoriatic arthritis, somewhat masking the lethal intruder, skin cancer.  He endured medicine to keep the blood clots from traveling. Worst of all was the heinous chemo that wracked his fragile frame. These poisons demolished his bone marrow leading to the need for massive transfusions of both white and red cells. The final insult came when a tumor on his ankle grew out of control. It was then he was sent to undergo radiation for this growth, but instead the pronouncement of his imminent death was spoken.

All through the year of his fight, he was always trying to stay mobile and independent. I cringed as the cane gave way to the walker. Then there was just the wheel chair until he lost the strength to get out of bed.

Who could watch the seasons? Our world became very tiny, contained within our bedroom. I brought in as much of the color of the world as I could. I surrounded his hospital bed with pictures of the children and grandchildren. His bed lay alongside the sliding glass door that forms that end of our bedroom. First thing every morning I thrust back the shutters, only closing them against the dark as the last strains of the sun vanished.

The tension of the vigilance as his time grew near has now seeped away while we worked out way through the busyness of burying our dead. Where is the once vital man who laughed at my jokes, who insisted that he too liked sappy chick flicks, whose choking gasp would break out when there was heart break. This was the man I lived with for 37 years but never saw cry. When I broke down at the finality of the prognosis, even then he had no tears. He just beamed this beatific smile as I wept.

I asked how he was able to cope with his impending death, assuring him I would not be able to do so if it were I. His response came through a soft smile on that otherwise taut face, “You will be able when it is your time.” I choose to believe him. He did not just slip at once into peaceful eternity, but rather seemed to flow back and forth between here and there for days before his actual passing.

As I have shared with others, a day or so before he died, he came out of his sedated state to ask a question. At this time he had not been formulating sentences at all. Looking very clear-eyed, he asked me, “Are you aging?” This was so telling as neither of us ever saw the other age as the years passed. He seemed so surprised that I was showing signs of age. I have to believe he was also in the land of no aging at the time.

He altered so much during the year. The most visible changes were the sudden, extensive weight loss and his hair having all but fallen out. By the time there were but wisps of hair left on his head, he asked for a mirror. That was when his demeanor faltered a little as he asked me to shave his head.

When he died he had his moustache back, but his lustrous beard and salt and pepper hair were gone. It helped me to at least be able to see his moustache again. He wore a beard most of our time together, but had never been without a moustache.

It is so hard to deal with the shock of the finality of his being gone. I could not imagine it, and now it is here. The flowers from the memorial are beginning to droop. It is the time for cleaning out, clearing up, settling in. I have to ask what it is I am to settle into. How can I redefine myself? I was 29 when we met. It had been so easy, natural to throw in my lot with him, beginning to identify as who we were together. It has been so long now that I cannot remember who I used to be. I am not sure I could ever return to who I was before him, nor would I want to. I have become a new person.

The things we have created together are still here, tugging at me to take my place once again: the children, the grandchildren, the congregation, the extended family, the friends, my writing. I will rejoin them as I can, when I can, how I can. They too feel the absence of my other half. I want to keep his presence, his values, his ideals alive in all that now continues on without him. I hope I can always remember his views. His way was of deep contemplation and thorough investigation, while his conclusions were always just and kind and wise. He lived to study. He grew to be an anointed teacher.

We often studied together. I endeavored to read what he read. We had amazing, transforming discussions. Those are what I will miss most. I hope to one day be as kind as he was. For now I have to say,  “Goodbye, My Love.”

Once again

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You were there in my sorrow

When my world dissolved around me

You held my hand with each crisis I endured

With that quick smile of comfort

And that gentle knowing in your eyes

I felt hope returning to my soul

We’ve been through many valleys

And we’ve reached to the mountains

As we’ve seen God deliver us from harm

We’ve anguished over children

As we struggled to love and guide them

And we’ve known God would cover with His arm

We’ve watched as our families

Have withstood the storms of aging

And we’ve longed for those rocking chairs on the porch

We’ve watched many sunrises

With the fish jumping toward us

As we’ve enjoyed friends and family riverside

And we’ve clung to our Savior

As the darkness closed around us

And the pain wracked your quiet frame once more

I’ve struggled as I’ve watched you

Feeling helpless to touch that anguish

As it robs you of your most precious life

But you lie there glowing, loving

Praying for those around you

Radiating peace that passes understanding

I know there’s a place of healing

Waiting just beyond the River

Where the fish are always biting just for you

And I know that I will see you once again

Do the Bump

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We watch ourselves in airports. Everyone is carrying or hauling bags. I find myself saying “excuse me,” “sorry,” incessantly. Rarely does anyone get angry. It’s what is expected. We excuse the bag bumps in that setting.

But, as my husband was wont to say, we are all bumbling through life, halting, carrying our loads, bumping into each other on a daily basis. That was his way of imploring that we be kind to each other and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Assume no harm was intended, not the other way around. As we wield our loads, contact is inevitable.

So, what is in our daily “carry-ons”? The most common expressions we encounter as we travel this life are “someone stepped on my toes,” or “he bumped me out of line.” Or even egos get bruised and feelings hurt. Our portable appendages typically house our sense of self, both high and low. If we get bumped out of a position we believe we have earned, anger and even retaliation can ensue. If we are “put” in our place, we can feel undervalued, perhaps touching on the tenderness of our feared inadequacies.

I have had many a conversation with a young person, interceding when there is a perceived slight by a littler one. It’s easier to forgive babies, toddlers for poking, hitting, pushing, falling over us. We all acknowledge that they don’t have the control over their little bodies or even their emotions as they scurry about. No one can believe they are intending harm.

Perhaps that should be our guide for dealing with bigger folks as well. It’s rare that the comment, look, or even bump is malevolently motivated. Wouldn’t it be kinder to assume we’re all just bigger kids trying to get through life without falling down.

What would happen if everyone just giggled when someone’s bags, tangible or invisible, bumped ours? I have to believe we could avoid a whole lot of rage. So next time someone cuts you off, try picturing them in diapers and see if your heart doesn’t melt a little. I know mine does.